“When the Europeans took blacks as slaves in the US, our ancestors brought their culture with them. They mixed their music with modern instruments, and created the blues, and that invented rock n roll, rhythm and blues, jazz, everything. The blues comes from here. We sing, we cry, and it brings you into a trance. We make Bori, we do Voodoo. Our ancestors brought this to the US. Little by little, it took in everyone.” – Mona (né Abdoulaye Bouzou)

sahel

A long overdue update on some of the most incredible music released this year, so far — all from the incredibly robust and eclectic realm of modern-day Africa. The venerable Sahel Sounds, increasingly standing shoulder to shoulder with the Strut and Soundways labels, released two splendid, and wholly different, documents of new sounds coming out of West Africa earlier this year – one grounded in guitar-based field recordings, the other coming from a more experimental and electronic angle – patch working synthetic textures and organic sounds to mesmerizing effect.

sahel

Let’s start with the guitar record. A compilation of various guitar music, seemingly oozing out of every corner of Niger, Agrim Agadez is a testament to the infinite power of the unadorned and naturalistic recording process. Bringing together the likeminded contemporary passion of this musically dense and focal region, from musicians of all walks of life, the comp includes what the liner notes describe as everything from “bar bands of the southern Hausa land, pastoral flock owning village autodidacts, rag-tag DIY wedding rock musicians, to political minded folk guitarists.” In other words, all the real shit. Hypnotic blues chants are redefined in the pure, unabashed harmony of Mohamed Karzo’s “C’est La Vie,” a platitude that feels less and less of a cliché with each passing day of this modern age. The raw and genuine power of these performances are not diminished, but rather, strengthened by the collection’s eclectic nature – underscored perhaps most profoundly by the fact that the aforementioned life-affirming folk song is followed by an absolute blazingly ragged rendition of “Hey Joe,” courtesy of Azna De L’Ader (the outfit of the above quoted Mona).

Mohamed Karzo :: C’est La Vie

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In recent years, guitarist Bill MacKay has served as Ryley Walker’s six-string sparring partner, built luminous soundscapes with Rob Frye (Bitchin Bajas, Cave) and led the jazz-inflected Darts and Arrows collective. A varied resume! MacKay maintains this healthy sense of adventure on Esker, his eclectic Drag City debut. Each of the 10 absorbing instrumentals here is a world unto itself, whether it’s the mystical, slide guitar + piano on the opening “Aster” or the jaunty ragtime of “Candy.” MacKay has chops a-plenty, but the album never feels fussy or ostentatious. There’s a looseness and ease to every moment here; the paint is still fresh on the canvas, so to speak.

He’s Chicago-based, but MacKay’s imagination often looks westward for inspiration — dig the dusty swagger of “Powder Mill Park,” or “Wail,” an elegiac sunset of a song that could’ve been plucked from Dylan’s Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid soundtrack. Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, Esker flies by at first listen, but as you continue to explore its grooves, you’ll find more and more to love. words / t wilcox


harry1

“It was really pure art. Pure art. Anyway, producing great works was the ultimate goal; we had eyes for nothing else. We heard nothing else. We still had no sense of society. There was no sense of the masses.” – Haruomi Hosono

Here now, “Some for Harry,” a celebration and glance at Haruomi Hosono: bass God of Japan, the in-demand producer, the confounding inventor, the soothe-singing crooner and social commentator; an hour of groove, freak-out, electronicalypso and beyond. / b kramer

Some For Harry / A Haruomi Hosono Companion

playlist / provenance after the jump . . .

SIRIUS

Our weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can be heard twice every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST.

SIRIUS 480: Jean-Michel Bernard – Générique Stéphane ++ Can – I Want More ++ The Velvet Underground – I’m Waiting For The Man ++ The Soft Boys – Vegetable Man ++ White Fence – Growing Faith ++ The Olivia Tremor Control – Memories of Jacqueline 1906 ++ Faust – It’s A Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl (AD Edit) ++ The Velvet Underground – I’m Not A Young Man Anymore ++ The Paragons – Abba ++ Big Star – Back Of A Car ++ The Soul Inc. – Love Me When I’m Down ++ Donn Shinn & The Soul Agents – A Minor Explosion ++ T.L. Barrett And Youth For Christ Choir – Ever Since ++ Shintaro Sakamoto – Mask On Mask ++ Flash & The Dynamics – Electric Latin Soul ++ Donald Jenkins & The Delighters: Elephant Walk ++ Symphonic Four: Who Do You Think Youre Fooling ++ Milton Henry: Gypsy Woman ++Bishop Perry Tills – I Pound a Solid Rock ++ Serge Gainsbourg – New Delire ++ Phil Upchurch – Sitar Soul ++ White Hinterland – Dreaming Of Plum Trees ++ Jan Hammer Group – Don’t You Know ++ Joe Valentine – I Can’t Stand To See You Go ++ Serge Gainsbourg – Requiem pour un con  ++ The Three Degrees – Collage ++ Dion – Baby Let’s Stick Together ++ Margo Guryan – Sunday Morning ++ Robert Vanderbilt & the Foundation Of Souls – A Message Especially From God (AD edit) ++ Ned Doheny – I’ve Got Your Number (demo) ++ Daughn Gibson – Bad Guys ++ Glen Campbell – Guess I’m Dumb ++ Jonathan Rado – Valentine’s Day (McCartney) ++ Paul McCartney – Arrow Through Me ++ Gil Scott-Heron – Message To The Messengers ++ Ty Segall – Goodbye Bread ++ Jerry & Jeff – Voodoo Medicine Man ++ Jack Nitzsche: The Lonely Surfer / Oscar Harris: Twinkle Stars Boo Galoo ++ Joe Bataan: Chick-a-boom ++ Jacques Dutronc: Les Cactus ++ The Shadows: Scotch On The Socks ++ Chubby Checker – Goodbye Victoria ++ Nancy Dupree – James Brown

*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.
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darnielle

Since forming the Mountain Goats in 1991, John Darnielle has sung about remarkable people: wounded couples, Texas death metal aficionados, doo wop singers, professional wrestlers, horror authors, heretics, prophets, long-dead classical pianists, and occasionally, John Darnielle. He works along the fringes, building up narratives around his pop cultural obsessions and consistent empathy. In a John Darnielle song, no matter how sad, human beings are never reduced to caricatures. They are always treated with a profound respect.

On the Mountain Goats’ new album, Goths, Darnielle turns his attention to the death and darkness obsessed subculture that emerged in the U.K. in the early 1980s. In typical Darnielle style, the songs are sweet and understated. It’s a record about aging and identity, about cultures shifting around us. Goths talk to other goths, and outsiders try to figure out goths: in “Rage of Travers,” Darnielle crafts a fictional epic about ’70s blues rock guitarist Pat Travers wondering why the hell Bauhaus won’t let him sit in at a gig at the storied London nightclub the Batcave. It’s a record about time moving on, whether or not we’re okay with that sort of thing.

The record is occasionally nostalgic — “Outside it’s 92 degrees/And KROQ is playing Siouxsie and the Banshees” he sings longingly on “Stench of the Unburied” — but the record also charts new ground for the long-running band. Though the group’s recent records have embraced a certain smoothness, Goths leans even heavier into AOR gloss and sheen. Darnielle doesn’t play guitar on the album, sitting instead at a Fender Rhodes, and presents his distinct voice is new, tempered ways. It’s a band record; the interplay between rhythm section Peter Hughes and Jon Wurster shines on “Unicorn Tolerance,” and multi-instrumentalist Matt Douglas works in crafty, engrossing woodwind arrangements on “Paid in Cocaine” and “The Grey King and the Silver Flame Attunement.”

The album comes hot on the heels of Universal Harvester, Darnielle’s third novel, following 2008’s Black Sabbath: Master of Reality for the 33⅓ series and 2014’s Wolf in White Van. It’s about a video store in Nevada, Iowa. A clerk there, Jeremy, and the store’s owner Sarah Jane, begin to discover disturbing scenes recorded over chunks of VHS tapes returned to the shop. Their investigation brings them into contact with a mysterious woman named Lisa Sample, and face to face with the concept of grief.

Both Goths and Universal Harvester center around the ways we ask art to speak for us, how we ask it to offer forms of expression for things that sometimes feel too deep to name. The book and the record are both informed by Darnielle’s stubborn and pervasive humanism. Aquarium Drunkard called him up to discuss his ethos, vocal jazz, and growing as a writer. Here’s that conversation.

Aquarium Drunkard: You sing really incredibly on this record. Was that something you worked hard to do for Goths?

John Darnielle: I really worked hard to sing as best I could. I really think I’ve grown as a singer. That’s a hard thing to sell people on when they think of you as the guy with the pushing, nasal voice, which I do have. I have one of those assaultive registers. I have a register that a lot of people really like [but] either you love it or hate it. But I’ve grown as a singer a lot over the last couple records and I’ve embraced that.

Maria Govea2

It’s a Sunday afternoon at the FORM festival at Arcosanati. Mother’s Day, actually. I’m watching Phil Elverum of Mt. Eerie sing the most pained songs about the mother of his daughter, his late wife, the artist Geneviève Castrée.

“Death is real,” he sings over casual strums of his acoustic guitar, from a small stage under a gorgeous half-dome, one of the structural features favored by artist and architect Paolo Soleri. Founded in 1970, Soleri built Arcosanti in the Arizona desert atop the concept of “arcology” — architecture in alignment with ecology.

In many ways, this scene typifies what people might think about FORM from the outside. There’s a cool breeze sweeping in from across the canyon. The desert sun shines over us, and there are dozens of clusters of artfully dressed and composed young people — the kind who might, without any affectation, refer to themselves as “influencers” or “creatives.” But in this moment, none of the cynical jokes you might make about flighty millennials gathering in the desert for transformative, transcendent experiences could possible take root. Tears are welled up in my eyes; the moment’s real.

Trummors

Consider your cosmic country rock needs met for the summer. Trummors’ Headlands is a gorgeous sonic road trip through the beauty, sadness and mystery of the American west (or what’s left of it), packed with sunburnt pedal steel, close harmonies and sneakily sophisticated songwriting. Think New Riders of the Purple Sage, American Beauty-era Dead, Neil’s Harvest and the early 70s work of Iain Matthews (whose “Hearts” is given an absolutely perfect rendering here).

The core Trummors duo of Anne Cunningham (vocals, harmonium) and David Lerner (vocals, guitar) is joined on Headlands by a crack band of fellow travelers — especially strong throughout is Kevin Barker’s b-bender guitar work; check out the sparkling solo that closes out the appropriately named “Breezin'” or the fuzzed out blast that pleasingly interrupts “Hollis Tornado.” Roll the windows down, crank the volume up and head for the open highway with Trummors. words / t wilcox

Trummors :: Spanish Peaks